McMaster currently has no plans to ban Napster


Academia has been pulled into the controversy surrounding the trading of digital music files. More than 200 universities and colleges in the U.S. and Canada have banned Napster on campus to eliminate the potential for lawsuits. McMaster currently has no plans to ban the program.

Millions of people are using the popular computer program to download music files, many for free. Last December, an organization representing the music industry sued Napster Inc. Since then, the rock group Metallica and rap star Dr. Dre have also filed lawsuits claiming music piracy.

Napster allows internet users to transfer digital music files between computers over Napster's network. According to the April 22 Financial Post there are 300,000 users, transferring millions of MP3 music files, using Napster at any time. More than 10 million people have downloaded and registered the program.

Robin Griffin, senior manager, client support (research and networking), says Computing & Information Services has been following the actions taken by various institutions and has decided not to ban Napster for several reasons.

“First, is isn't feasible to do so — one can only make it a little more difficult to use it directly. What is possible is to prevent internet traffic directly to the Napster Web site, but people can go there indirectly, hiding behind various proxy servers. Second, Napster is only the first such popular application. The Napster code is now in the public domain and various groups are creating other applications with different names. It is impossible to learn about all of these variants, let alone to take action against them.”

Griffin says that CIS is merely a service provider, passing on internet traffic without examining it. “We are not censors in this medium, any more than the post office censors the contents of paper mail messages. Generally speaking, it is impossible to 'police' copyright without examining content, and we have neither the resources nor the inclination to do so. Napster is an application — a tool that can be used for valid purposes (such as co-operative learning), as well as for purposes that infringe copyright. We neither want to decide, nor are we capable of deciding, how people choose to use their applications.”

“The University is in a better situation than most universities,” adds Barb Campbell, departmental manager, CIS. “We are able to contain the bandwith used by students in residence to a certain amount to attempt to enforce a fair share policy, so that Napster traffic does not affect other University (internet) traffic.”

CIS is now preparing a document, to be discussed in June with members of the Inter-Residence Council, about setting some limits on individual internet usage in residence.